Film Review: Knock (France, 2017) fails to embrace the dark satirical properties of its source material

Based on the oft-adapted French satire Knock by writer and poet Jules Romains, this name-same feature fails to embrace the dark satirical properties of its source material and instead plays out all too predictably and implausible.

At the centre of the film is a suitably charismatic turn from the reliable Omar Sy, and had Knock been operating off the talents of a lesser actor, writer/director Lorraine Levy‘s adaption may have been even less inspiring as it proves to be.

The film’s prologue quickly establishes that the titular Knock (Sy) is a crook of sorts who is in serious debt.  After being warned that he has only 24 hours to pay what he owes, he manages to escape the clutches of his collectors by boarding an immediately-departing vessel that is seeking a doctor.  Knock has no medical experience to his name but his silver tongue and miraculous luck earn him good fortune on board, leading to a 5-years on plot jump where he enters the quaint Saint-Maurice  with the intention of treating the locals.

Realising there’s little money to be made from a town who have been prescribed little more than bedrest and herbal tea from the former practitioner (Nicholas Marie), Knock devises a plan to drum up business by diagnosing the townsfolk with a series of illnesses – both legitimate and imaginary – and charging them risible prices in the meantime.

The underlying darkness that is at the core of Knock‘s origins is one that was more realised in the 1923 play, where F.W. Murnau‘s vampire feature Nosferatu was noted as an inspiration, and aside from altering the character of Knock’s complexion – which in itself hardly raises an issue despite the 1950’s setting – this version strives for a more entertaining temperament, but sadly fails to deliver with jokes that don’t land and characters that are more caricatures.

As mentioned earlier, Sy is an absolute treasure (as he tends to be in most of his native projects) and although his joviality is not entirely suited to the mentality his conman needs, the film essentially survives off his presence.  A more grounded approach to the white-heavy town’s reaction to Knock’s dark complexion would’ve also been a wise choice on Levy’s part, because as admirable as it is to cast colourblind it doesn’t ring remotely true.

Review Score: TWO STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Dr Knock is in select cinemas from 2nd August 2018.